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Simcoe restaurant is brewing up sanitizer

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Old beer is being put to good use.

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At The Blue Elephant restaurant in Simcoe, owner Heather Pond and brewmaster Sarah Fritch have been busy at work brewing up hand sanitizer.

The beer that was on tap, that would otherwise have been poured down the drain, is now being used to help create the cleansers.

In late March the government reached out to anyone licensed to produce alcohol to see who would be interested in creating hand sanitizer.

Like other restaurants, The Blue Elephant was ordered closed – except for takeout – as part of a provincial pandemic containment strategy.

“We decided right from the get-go as a team that weren’t going to do takeaway,” said Pond. “A couple weeks into it we thought, ‘Let’s get on the teleconference and find out about it.”

Pond said there were between 70 and 80 alcohol manufacturers on the call with Health Canada to find out about making hand sanitizer.

The Blue Elephant received three licences from Health Canada to be able to produce the sanitizer, including one for a COVID-19 site licence. The licence, which was posted on Facebook, states the site can be used for the manufacturing of antiseptic skin cleansers only for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency response.

“This is a health product, and especially right now with it being a pandemic, you need to know that you can trust your hand sanitizer,” said Pond.

While they were waiting on the go-ahead, brewmaster Fritch was doing research on how to convert the beer into the alcohol needed to sanitize.

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“The first step is the fermentation, very similar to making beer,” said Fritch. “But where beer would come out at five per cent alcohol, we’re trying to get it up between 15 and 20 per cent alcohol. The more alcohol in the solution, when you distill it the more pure ethyl alcohol you can pull out of it.”

The process includes fermenting, distilling, and mixing.

The World Health Organization recipe they are using has four ingredients. The ingredients are ethyl alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, glycerin, and water.

The ethyl alcohol is used to kill bacteria and yeast, and the hydrogen peroxide is used to kill any spores.

“The glycerin makes it a little more acceptable for your hands so you’re not putting pure alcohol on your hands,” said Fritch. “Then you use just enough water to dilute it to the appropriate strength.”

There is no fragrance or gel in the sanitizers being produced. Even though it is being made out of beer, it smells of any regular unscented hand sanitizer.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of hand sanitizer will be going to the Simcoe Caring Cupboard.

“We chose the Simcoe Caring Cupboard because they’re a food bank and we’re a restaurant,” said Pond. “Our little world here is all about food, and we know that they were struggling. There’s a million different great organizations out there, but because we’re food-oriented we decided that would be the thing to do.”

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